Book Review: The Seven Deadly Virtues

Blog written by Grounds’ guest blogger Rebecca Vincent. 

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In The Seven Deadly Virtues: Temptations in Our Pursuit of Goodness, author and pastor Todd E. Outcalt introduces readers to seven aspects of our lives that are often lauded as good and positive but that can yield serious challenges to our spiritual growth if we are indulgent in their application.

The title connects these seven areas, which Outcalt has labeled “virtues,” with the infamous “seven deadly sins.” The inferred connection may create more confusion than clarity. The sins of wrath, greed, envy, sloth, gluttony, lust, and pride are inherently offensive to God – they are sins. They have no wiggle room in their application and are not to be negotiated. The “virtues” reflect positive aspects of Christian living that Outcalt warns us can become detrimental to our spiritual growth if we do not continue to focus on their source of goodness, Jesus Christ. In this sense, I find the “virtue” label to be misleading. These are values – arguably with the exception of two (but more on that in a minute) – with the potential to slide towards vice or virtue depending on how we use them. Their danger is not in what they are but in what we do with them.

Nevertheless, Outcalt does not take the simple path of suggesting that these virtues become deadly merely if we become too proud of our efforts in them. That conclusion would make this slim book even shorter. Rather, he pushes these virtues to their fullest expression and demonstrates how we can abuse and misuse their meaningful purposes. In his chapter on faith, Outcalt explores the tentative relationship between what we believe and how we live our belief:

“We should never allow faith in God to become a set of rules or a self-centered exercise that has more to do with personal growth or self-fulfillment than the gospel of Jesus. Faith should never be equated with something we coerce from God but should be regarded as a loving relationship with God.”

His section on goodness rightly dissects its temptations:

“Here we see the dark side of the virtue of goodness: the idea that our various successes, achievements, awards, honors, and accolades amount to something in the eyes of God… First, we regard ourselves as good enough, then accomplished, and then outstanding, and finally indispensable. Before long we don’t need anything from God or anyone else. We have arrived on our own merits.”

In the pages that follow Outcalt redirects readers back to the source of goodness and affirms that goodness is not a destination, it is a process. More importantly, it is the work of the Holy Spirit and not ourselves.

In one final example, and the one that stood out the most for me, Outcalt connects gratitude as the antidote for flashy giving that masquerades as generosity.

“Generosity is a virtue that can cause us to look past the source of our blessings, which is, of course, the Lord. The one great temptation of generosity is to see ourselves as the source of the gift rather than seeing the Giver of all good things. We often give without recognizing that God’s work—God’s generosity—makes our generosity possible.”

And later in the chapter:

“Gratitude is the one attitude that can save us from the deadly virtue of generosity. Gratitude removes the emphasis from the gift and places it squarely on the Giver, God.”

For each virtue, Outcalt challenges churches and individuals through examples and anecdotes to reflect carefully on their decisions and consider the messages that their actions portray. To guide those reflections, The Seven Deadly Virtues time and again points readers to rely on Christ as the example and source for the best in each virtue.

However, tucked into the middle of the book are two virtues that I do not accept, and I thought their presence was confusing. I had a hard time accepting the inclusion of success and power as virtues, let alone even values. I don’t understand them to be attributes that God has modeled for us, promised us, or has encouraged us to pursue. They may be by-products of God’s blessing or empowerment in our lives, but they are not ours to elevate to significance. Outcalt wrote thought-provoking chapters on the nature of these two areas in our lives and our churches, but they are misplaced as virtues.

The Seven Deadly Virtues includes supporting perspectives from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, Phillip Yancey, and others, as well as many references to the Bible’s teachings. At times the abundance of personal examples crowds space that would have been better suited to further analysis, but Outcalt’s range of sources provides good launching points for digging deeper. It is only in considering the book as an entire entity that prompted a tepid response. Matters of style, an occasional wavering sense of intent and purpose, and discrepancies in definitions caused confusion and a sense of unsubstantiated arguments. Taken independently, however, each chapter is a solid overview and analysis of its respective topic; there is much in each chapter to engage readers and generate discussion.

Outcalt, Todd E. “The Seven Deadly Virtues: Temptations in Our Pursuit of Goodness”

Book Review: “Paradoxology”

Blog written by Grounds’ guest blogger Rebecca Vincent

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Tucked in the middle of Paradoxology: Why Christianity Was Never Meant to be Simple, in a chapter grappling with The Habakkuk Paradox of “The God Who is Consistently Unpredictable,” author Krish Kandiah puts the thrust of the book:

“It is too easy to settle for pre-packaged, disengaged faith that happily goes along with the flow and avoids the tricky questions. But this is not the faith of the Bible’s heroes. Their lives were messier than we like to dwell on, and each one’s relationship with God has its ups and downs too. In an increasingly unpredictable and chaotic world, boil-in-the-bag religion will not build a faith that is mature enough to survive the intellectual or emotional turmoil that life is all too good at throwing at us. A resilient faith that can handle the unpredictability of life in God’s world must also be an honest faith with room to express doubt.”

Throughout the entire book, Kandiah tackles seemingly overwhelming aspects of God’s nature that have the potential of leaving faithful followers confused, and vulnerable Christ-followers questioning. Silence, suffering, genocide, failure, and free will make appearances. Kandiah examines the familiar stories of Abraham, Moses, Jonah, and Jesus alongside the less familiar, but no less instructive, stories of Hosea, Habakkuk, and the churches of Rome and Corinth.

Each chapter connects readers with the history of another person who engaged with the living God. Often they did not come to a divine revelation about their circumstances during their lifetime. They continued to live within the seeming paradoxes of God’s nature. How they chose to proceed influenced how their faith developed. In this way, readers are redirected from viewing God as the problematic paradox to God as the faith-giving sustainer to His followers.

Kandiah writes not because he has found the answers but because he has found reward in wrestling with the questions. The first part of the title is a merging of two words: paradox and doxology – a hint that within any effort to genuinely search for the God of the Bible, often between a rock and a hard spot, we can emerge in praise and worship that is deeper, fuller, and awe-inspired, if we so choose to proceed.

Kandiah’s writing about issues of theological significance is accessible and thoughtful. Intrepid readers are introduced to chapters and concepts with personal anecdotes and applicable reflections. A discussion that could be perceived as weighty and dense is conveyed with candor and clarity.

The personal touches do more than just welcome readers to the global church and universal quandaries of the subject. They remove any mindset that these chapters are solely about historical moments with God, safely questioned and understood at a distance. The circumstances of an Esther (the God who speaks silently) or Judas (the God who determines our free will) may differ from those of a modern day Jon or Elizabeth, but the tension these paradoxes create exists just as much now as it did then.

Kandiah’s exploration of potent paradoxes throughout scripture encourage believers to recognize the necessity of such tension for a life of dynamic faith. Rather than avoid these conundrums, Kandiah guides and encourages readers to confront them with confidence that God is in the struggle, just as He is everywhere.

Kandiah, Krish. “Paradoxology: Why Christianity Was Never Meant to be Simple.”

Q&A with Pastor White about “Meet Generation Z”

Blog compiled by The Grounds Bookstore and Cafe staff, with help from Pastor Jim White

Pastor Jim White recently released a new book, “Meet Generation Z”, tackling the first post-Christian generation to grow up in our culture. The book is a must read (available here for purchase), and we were so intrigued by its content that we had a couple of follow-up questions. Pastor White was gracious enough to entertain them, and below you’ll find our Q&A dialogue:

 

Quite directly, why should the average Millennial, Baby Boomer or older generations care about the spiritual life and cultural influence of Generation Z?

If you’re a Christ-follower, the answer is obvious. This generation of Christians will stand before God and give an account for this generation of non-Christians. Further, Generation Z presents a real urgency as not only the largest generation demographically, but the first that can truly be deemed “post-Christian.”

 

Considering that the Generation Z population falls roughly into the age bracket of 7 to 22 years old, is the best way to reach them by targeting them directly or their parents? And what’s the best way to do that?

Yes to both! And to answer the second question would simply mean restating the book, so…  J

 

You mention early on in the book that Generation Z is characterized by having shorter attention spans (8-seconds), due largely from social media and access to competing avenues of instant information. Is there a way to reclaim critical thinking and prolonged mediation, or are humans only going to continue becoming less able to think deeply or for a long time about anything?  

This is a very important question, and one that no one quite knows the answer to. We know the attention span across all ages is shrinking; we know there is less reading of books; we know that while there is virtually unlimited access to information, there is little wisdom. However, I do think this trend can be reversed and deep thinking, wide reading, careful reflection and more can enter into any life. But it will take intentionality. I would recommend my little book A Mind for God as a primer on how to begin to do just that.

 

Many of us reading this are parents of Generation Z children. You’ve often talked about how the church, while vital in spiritual formation, cannot be the sole spiritual influence in a child’s life. How do you suggest parents talk to or engage with their elementary and middle-school aged children about such concepts as truth and counter-culture living, especially when many of us are learning about God for the first time as well, not to mention we’re up against an 8-second attention span?   

The good news is that parents don’t face the 8-seconds issue I talk about in the book. That was a specific reference to the filtering process they use as they access the vast amounts of information and stimuli via such things as the internet. Parents, obviously, get more time than that and more attention. I believe parents must be much more engaged with their children in terms of the “under protective” nature of our day, which I speak about in the book. I did an entire series at Meck on this called “The Under Protective Parent”, which I would recommend people get through ChurchAndCulture.org. We are not helpless in the face of culture as parents. As I explore in that series, we can be informed, involved and in charge.

 

We know that every lost person matters to God, regardless of their age. So when dealing with a multi-generational congregation, how do you properly address the needs/characteristics of each generation? Or do you only cater to the newest generations?

While the book focuses on Generation Z, the truth is that many of the ideas and principles apply to everyone in a post-Christian, post-truth world. So in terms of content and even much of approach, there is common ground. When there are stylistic differences, I would recommend skewing young, which I give reasons for in the book. But even this does not bypass other generations – in many ways, it helps reach and retain them. It’s counterintuitive, I know, but I explain the thinking in the eighth chapter of the book where I speak to the multi-generational question.

 

You mention early on in the book that some are saying that Generation Z will be the last named generation. Do you agree?

I think I do. Now, to be sure, marketers and others will label away as fast and furiously as ever, but in the sociological sense I think there is truth to the idea that this will be the last true cohort due to the vastly increased speed of change. There will be shared experiences, and obviously a shared zeitgeist, that will affect us all – and some ages more than others – but it’s unclear whether we will be able to speak of true generational markings as much as markings of our culture as a whole, or of a particular class (as in high school or college graduating classes). So it will be much smaller groupings, or else very large, macro assessments.

 

Book Review: “You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church… and Rethinking Faith”

Blog by Sarah Wilson, The Grounds Bookstore & Cafe staff member

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Shedding light on the young adult’s perception of the church, culture, and Christianity, David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, addresses their frustrations, disappointments, delusions, hopes, and concerns. “You Lost Me signals their judgment that the institutional church has failed them.”  In his book, he examines the question – “How can we (as individuals and collectively as His church) faithfully follow Jesus while guiding young people to do the same?”

Through the Barna Group’s research, he discovered there are three classifications of young adults between the ages of 18-27, he refers to as “Mosaics”, who’ve left the church:

“Nomads” –  Those who’ve walked away from church but still consider themselves Christians.

“Prodigals” – Those who’ve lost their faith and consider themselves no longer Christian.

“Exiles” –  Those whom still invest in their Christian faith, but feel divided between culture and church.

As the generations before us, Millennials (where Mosaics reside) have been deeply influenced by the sexually revolutionizing, family restructuring, hippie, Watergate, and Cold War era generation of Baby Boomers. One natural consequence is they’ve a great deal of skepticism toward authority – meaning who to trust and why – leaving them holding the value of cultural group thinking over laws and even morality. Wherever the pendulum may swing, so to shift their values. To Millennials truth has become relative. They’ve replaced a quest for knowledge with whatever Google pulls up in a search result.

I should come clean before going further…hello, my name is Sarah and I am a Millennial. When attempting to have discussions outside of my friends and community, I’ve more often than not been painfully subjected to parroted sound bites, studies or obviously unchecked stats recited to me without being followed up by any independent thought or opinions. It’s abundantly clear that my peers are unaware that this does not qualify as honest, intelligent discussion. Asking for elaboration typically offends or makes Millennials feel “unsafe”.

What does this mindset mean for the Church? There’s both good and bad news that goes along with this. The bad news is that the dearly held “old normal” structure of congregations and parishes leaves this generation having a very difficult time relating to and finding any comfort in the church. The good news is that, ultimately, God’s church is called to be the community of love, doing away with both isolation and alienation. The “old normal” must grow into the “new normal”, while still holding to its integrity in Biblical truth, if it is to remain authentic in reaching those who don’t yet know Christ (Matt. 28:16-20).

Kinnaman’s solution: rethinking relationships. Abandoning the idea that the church exists to prepare the next generation to fulfill God’s purpose. Rather, he suggests that the church is a partnership of generations fulfilling God’s purpose collectively, in their time.

What does this mean?

The church should be intercultural. When society divides us in neat little sections for marketing, housing, what have you, we are to look past socioeconomic, cultural, and generational divides and work together, loving one another. As Kinnaman puts it, “Jesus commanded that our love would be the telltale sign of our devotion to Him (John 13:35) as well as a community where various age demographics genuinely love each other and work together with unity and respect.”

What really stuck out to me, in his chapter entitled “Shallow”, was the topic on expecting too little. “In our research, we find clear evidence that many parents and churches have expectations of young people that are much too low or much too driven by cultural ideas of success. Often we misread youth involvement in the church with growth in faith.”

His point is to substitute shallow faith with apprenticeships.

My (church) home, Mecklenburg Community Church (Meck), does this exceptionally well. Each ministry has volunteer positions within which teens and young adults are not only free to participate, but are also encouraged to grow both spiritually and in performance. Recently our Arts Ministry highlighted high school students in our Christmas Eve services, both as members of a special musical performance as well as actors in a comedic drama. The Grounds Bookstore & Cafe, the ministry I have the privilege of working in, has even created a special position for middle and high school students called The Junior Barista Program. But as Kinnaman has made more than clear in his findings, Meck is sadly the exception rather than the norm.

I want to deeply encourage you to read “You Lost Me” because Kinnaman has really challenged me to take a look at myself and how I interact with those who hold opposing views and beliefs from my own. I clearly needed the dose of grace he offers and the motivation to be encouraging of others who are turned off by their perception of Christianity – the kind of encouragement that will lead them back to Him. Kinnaman not only offers an abundance of research as to why Millennials have teetered off from their faith, but he also challenges us with real and practical solutions.

Kinnaman, David. “You Lost Me”

The “Who” Behind Our Missions

Blog by Alexis Drye, Director of The Grounds Bookstore & Cafe

You hear it all the time in The Grounds: “All proceeds support Meck’s ministries and missions’ partners, both locally and globally.” And we’re proud of that. It means that all of your purchases mean something; a lot, actually. But who exactly does it go to? For this blog, we’re going to introduce you to some of our local ministry partners. And while you can feel confident that you’re already supporting them through your purchases in The Grounds, as well as your participation in the Meck offering, we also offer opportunities for you to physically go and serve these partners. We’re listing some of our upcoming “Serve Days” in case you want to get involved.

Children’s Hope Alliance – For 125 years, this organization has been helping families and children in North Carolina to achieve hope and healing. Through services such as foster care, adoption, clinical assistance, training programs, therapeutic services and residential assistance, Children’s Hope Alliance meets families where they are in their struggles and provides an individual plan that will guide them to healing. At their Statesville location, Meck lends a hand every month with their Group Home program, cooking dinner for the children staying there. Not only do we get to give their room parents a break, but we also get to remind the children how loved they are and supported by the community.

NEXT SERVE DAY: Tuesday, October 25, 2016, 5:15 PM – 7:30 PM. Register HERE.

 

Second Harvest Food Bank – Serving people in 19 counties across the Carolinas, the Second Harvest Food Bank aims to end hunger in our community, especially among children. They partner with more than 650 agencies to distribute food to those in need, including shelters, soup kitchens, daycares and more.  They’re constantly collecting and distributing food, while also educating and advocating for those in need. Every month, Meck assists in the warehouse sorting and inspecting food.

NEXT SERVE DAY: Saturday, October 22, 2016, 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM. Register HERE.

 

Crisis Assistance Ministry – Financial crises are just that: crises. They’re unplanned events like a lost job, a sudden medical diagnosis, an unexpected bill, a house fire. The Crisis Assistance Ministry provides assistance for people who find themselves in financial crisis, helping them to achieve self-sufficiency. One of their many programs is their Free Store of clothing, household goods, shoes and books available to their clients at no charge. Each month, a team from Meck volunteers at the Free Store, sorting and inspecting donations or prepping the Store for customers.

NEXT SERVE DAY: Saturday, November 12, 2016, 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM. Register HERE.

 

Olde Knox Commons – Olde Knox Commons is a skilled nursing and rehabilitation center in Huntersville that strives to improve the quality of life for its patients while maintaining their dignity, self-worth and valued relationships. They pride themselves on their caring staff, compassion for their patients, and the lengths that they go to to makes sure that meeting the patients’ needs is the main focal point of its mission. The Meck Serve Day aims to bring joy to the elderly residing there. It’s a family-friendly serving opportunity that results in new friendships and lots of joy.

NEXT SERVE DAY: Saturday, November 05, 2016, 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM. Register HERE.

 

Ranson Ridge Assisted Living and Memory Care – “We are special people who have a heart-felt love for helping seniors enjoy a happy and healthy lifestyle in a supportive environment focused on socialization, good food, good health, safety, and independence.” As quoted on their website, the Ranson Ridge Assisted Living and Memory Care facility works to treat their patients as family as they provide a variety of services, including assisted living accommodations, on-site physician care and rehabilitation, support groups for Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, and more. Meck sends a team here every month to bring joy to the patients. Like the Serve Day at Olde Knox Commons, this is a family-friendly opportunity. In fact, the patients love seeing little ones!

NEXT SERVE DAY: Saturday, November 19, 2016, 9:30 AM – 11:00 AM. Register HERE.

 

Charlotte Rescue Mission – For more than 75 years, the Charlotte Rescue Mission has helped men and women in our community to achieve victory over their addictions. With their Christian-based recovery programs, they assist their patients to find long-term sobriety, establish stable employment and housing, and repair and build healthy relationships. Once every two months, Meck sends a team of people there to serve breakfast to the clients at the mission. If you’re a morning person, this is definitely the Serve Day for you!

NEXT SERVE DAY: Thursday, November 10, 2016, 5:30 AM – 7:30 AM. Register HERE.

 

Habitat for HumanityProbably the most internationally well-known partner of ours, Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit Christian ministry that works to create a world where every human being has a decent place to live. “Our mission is to put God’s love into action by bringing people together to build homes, communities and hope.” Meck partners with them here in Charlotte to build homes for those in need.

NEXT SERVE DAY: Saturday, November 19, 2016, 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM. Register HERE.

 

The Christian Mission of Mooresville/Lake Norman – This comprehensive organization serves nearly 5,000 families in the Mooresville/Lake Norman area who are hoping to escape the crippling effects of poverty. They help families gain an accurate understanding of their current situation and then establish client-specific plans to help them rise out of poverty. In their words, “We are available for our clients through their entire journey out of poverty to self-sufficiency.” Through programs such as emergency and transitional housing, care for the elderly and disabled, and an ongoing food pantry, The Christian Mission has seen countless families avoid and overcome poverty. Meck serves them through our biannual food drives as well as occasional Serve Days throughout the year.

 

A Child’s Place – When you think of the word “homeless”, who immediately comes to mind? For most of us, it’s not the face of a child, but the truth is that there are thousands of homeless children in Charlotte. A Child’s Place works to “erase the impact of homelessness on children and their education.” They partner with local schools to identify homeless children, and then work with the children and their families to provide a variety of assistance. By equipping the student with things like food, school supplies and other basic necessities, A Child’s Place can help a child feel prepared and confident in school. But the organization also goes deeper on a case-by-case basis for families in a state of long-term homelessness, addressing psychological difficulties, domestic violence, financial stability, employment opportunities, etc. Every year, Meck holds a backpack drive to collect school supplies and hygiene items for the homeless students in Charlotte.

As you can see, when we say that your purchases supports “missions”, we’re talking about human beings in our community and around the world who need your help. Who knew that a cup of coffee could be so powerful?

 

 

Who Should I Vote For?

Book Review: “Faith in the Voting Booth: Practical Wisdom for Voting Well”

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Reviewed by Sarah Wilson, The Grounds Bookstore & Cafe staff

With the November election approaching, our responsibility as American citizens has been tasked with choosing between two of the most distrusted and disliked candidates historically to date. Among all the articles being covered by multiple sources, each hitting different points, along with the constant release of new polls, we can be left in a whirlwind of things to sort out. Not to mention frustrating campaign ads. How should one vote? “Faith in the Voting Booth” by leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) Leith Anderson and Galen Carey really came at an opportune time for us all. (It’s important to know that the NAE doesn’t endorse candidates or align itself with a political party; it simply represents the evangelical Christians of our nation.)

This is the first election I’ll be casting my vote as a Christian. Since I value my relationship with Christ, I must consider His will and His desires for the next leader of our country. So, how do I determine what His will is? Knowing His Spirit definitely helps, as does reading Scripture (2 Tim. 3:15-16) and engaging in constant prayer (James 1:5). He’ll certainly do His part, but what am I responsible for?

The first step, according to “Faith in the Voting Booth”, is to research. And not just by reading credible articles or interviews with the candidates – which is a wise thing to do – but to go deeper. Anderson and Carey write, “Keep asking questions… and research the answers as if God is going to give you a quiz”. They also stress not to rely on a single source as there can be an abundance of false or heavily slanted information out there. In an attempt to better understand each candidate without bias, I have read “Hard Choices” by Hillary Clinton and “The Art of The Deal” by Donald Trump, each proving very insightful. Doing this allowed me to have quite a bit of my questions answered by the individuals themselves (even if the books were filtered by teams of editors).

I’ve been wondering if the uncertainty of a final decision will fade away. What Andersen and Carey recommend doing is to privately choose who to vote for. Keep this decision to yourself, as to not be further influenced by anyone other than Christ. Pray daily for God to confirm your decision or not. By allowing yourself the opportunity to live with your choice for at least a week, you will be able to settle into being convinced and comfortable, or unconvinced and uncomfortable with your selection. If by the end of your allotted time, you’re still unconvinced with your decision, start from the top. Do further research, pray, and seek counsel from those you turn to with any other decision or struggle you may have in life. Then dedicate another slot of time privately to prayer.

Their last step is to follow up. “We live out our Christian values regardless of who wins or loses. We share these values with others, including those who are not Christians.” We have to remember what we have in this country. There are people in this world who have absolutely no voice. The wonderful opportunity to vote according to our own beliefs or religious convictions and loyalties would be unheard of in other countries. This freedom is a reality for us and should in no way be dismissed or taken lightly.

What I really appreciated about this book was that it is free of any kind of bashing, and it manages to remain nonpartisan. Anderson and Carey didn’t deviate from Scripture or biblical emphasis, and they remained respectful and fair when discussing differences in beliefs and hot topics like abortion, taxes, foreign policy and marriage. While they didn’t get too in depth with these subjects, they did do a helpful job of offering a thorough synopsis accompanied with bullet points and Scripture.

“Faith in the Voting Booth” is worth reading if you want to figure out for yourself who to vote for rather than have someone else decide for you. Your vote is your own personal right and doesn’t belong to anyone else. This book breaks down how to decide for yourself for not only this election, but future ones as well.

Anderson, Leith, and Galen Cary. “Faith in the Voting Booth: Practical Wisdom for Voting Well.”

Gifts for Our Modern Day Superheroes

Blog by Alexis Drye, Director of The Grounds Bookstore & Cafe

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If you’ve been alive in the last year, you’ve probably seen little boys sporting t-shirts clad with their own superhero cape trailing behind. I’ve often heard my husband jokingly (but seriously) commenting that he wish it were sociably acceptable for adult men to wear shirts with capes like that. His would be Batman for sure. Even Cam Newton likes to pretend he has a Superman outfit underneath his jersey.(He is pretending, right?)

And if you’ve been in The Grounds at all in the last month, you’ve probably noticed our superhero-themed Father’s Day display. That’s because we see fathers as modern day superheroes. Just as Gotham City needs Batman and Earth needs Thor, our society needs dads; and not just any dads, but dads who love Jesus.

Superpowers like faith, self-control, patience, chivalry and kindness do much more in a child’s world than the gift of super strength, flight or the ability to see through walls.

So this year, let’s consider the ways in which we can be sidekicks to our superhero men, supporting them as they light the way for their children in an increasingly dark culture.

The Gift of Prayer

This may seem cliche, but it’s true. Our dads need prayer. They may not have superhuman strength, but God does. And He longs to display it in a father’s life. If you don’t know exactly what to to pray for, we (of course) have a few recommended resources:

“A Praying Life” – Paul Miller ; A book on prayer may not be the most obvious gift choice for Dad this year, but it could be the most life-changing gift he’s ever received for Father’s Day. And this is our #1 pick.

“The Power of a Praying Wife” – Stormie Omartian ; Wives, this book covers just about every way in which a wife can pray for her husband, including for his role as a father.

“The Power of a Praying Parent” – Stormie Omartian; Moms, why not get Dad a gift that you two can share in together as you discover the beauty of praying together for your children?

The Gift of Inspiration 

Men may not be inspired by sappy movies or Jane Austen novels, but they are spurred on by other men and by encouragement. We’ve got a few books that may just fan the flame inside them:

“7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness” – Eric Metaxas ; Metaxas hopes to redefine manhood and fatherhood through the example of seven incredible men in history.

“Fatherless” – James Dobson ; Though fiction, this book plays out the narrative of today’s cultural trends to look at the future role (or lack thereof) of fathers. What would our society be like without dads? If Dad ever wondered if he were that important, this book will remove that doubt.

The Gift of Childhood

This one may seem odd, but haven’t you noticed how Dad most seems to be in his element when he’s in earnest play with the kids? That’s because he is a kid himself in a lot of ways. Nurture the child within him with one of these:

“Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World” – Bob Goff ; Goff may be the founder of a huge non-profit organization, a leader in a Washington law firm, as well as the Honorary Consul of Uganda, but he lives life with the adventurous spirit of a child. Dad will be reminded that he can have fun in life, even when having to still pay bills and go to work.

“The Chronicles of Narnia” – C.S. Lewis ; Okay, this may seem like the biggest stretch in the list, but in truth, it shouldn’t be. Lewis wrote this series in an effort to explain the gospel to his children, and it has since become one of the most famous youth series of all time. Let Dad view the gospel story through the lens of a child, or let the book give him ideas as to how he might want to leave a legacy of faith among his children.

The Gift of Caffeine 

Because being a parent is tiring. Enough said. We sell our coffee for $12/lb, and we’ll even grind it for you to save you an additional step.

Happy Father’s Day.

 

Book Review: Understanding the “Problem of Pain”

Blog by Aric Renzo, volunteer Groundskeeper in The Grounds Bookstore and Cafe

The “Problem of Pain” by C.S. Lewis is considered by many to be one of the best works in Christian apologetics that addresses a fundamental question of human existence; that is, the problem of human pain and suffering in the context of human experience and in the light of God’s redemptive plan. After all, many skeptics and Christians alike may ask the question, “If God is a god of love, why is there so much suffering in the world?” 51O0807x-GL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Lewis looks at this question from various perspectives throughout the course of his essay. He begins by examining key attributes of God’s character: His divine omnipotence and His divine goodness. After crafting a careful backdrop of who God is, Lewis provides a comprehensive view of creation as God originally designed it prior to the fall. A thorough understanding of these introductory chapters is fundamental to his later detailed expositions on the human experience of suffering.

The majority of the book is dedicated to fleshing out various forms of pain. He breaks up the chapters into key sections: human wickedness, the fall of man, human pain, Hell, and animal pain. Essentially, Lewis believes (and rightfully so) that these issues of suffering are the most prevalent objections to the goodness of God that you are likely to encounter from unbelievers.

One in particular I found fascinating was the problem of animal suffering. I had not really given much thought to this question prior to reading this book, but after carefully reading Lewis’s thorough analysis, I can see how even the suffering of animals can fit into God’s plan. Even the utter brokenness of the world can be used by God to bring about His absolute goodness and provide us with comfort that He is in control of all things, even those aspects of life that appear to defy logic and reasoning.

Although the subject matter of the book seems rather bleak, Lewis ends his book on an uplifting and encouraging note. The final chapter, “Heaven”, provides a synopsis of God’s promise to us that this life replete with suffering, pain and sorrow is not the end, but merely one small aspect of reality as we experience it with our limited understanding. Rather, for humans, the far more magnificent aspect of God’s nature is His promise to us that He will set all things right by creating for us a perfect kingdom, full of God’s love and majesty, far beyond any human comprehension. This in fact will make the suffering of this life appear to be a mere shadow cast by the light of God’s presence dwelling among us in Heaven.

Overall, I found “The Problem of Pain” by C.S. Lewis to be an incredibly edifying read. It is a relatively quick read, written in such a way that it is quite easy to grasp the key concepts that Lewis illustrates. In its entirety, this book does a wonderful job of summarizing how pain and suffering is a necessary outcome of the fall of humanity, but how God can work through the darkest aspects of this life to bring about His ultimate goodness. Although the book was written in 1940, it is remarkably relevant to a modern reader, and it’s a wonderful addition to any Christian’s apologetics arsenal. I would also highly recommend this book for any unbeliever (atheist or agnostic) who struggles with these questions as barriers between themselves and God.

Lewis, C.S. “The Problem of Pain.”

Bringing History to Life with the Imagination Station

Blog by Alexis Drye, Director of The Grounds Bookstore & Cafe

Who hasn’t ever wanted to travel back in time? I know I have, especially to be an eye witness to the stories of the Bible I have read so many times. I’ve often meditated on how breathtaking it would be to watch the Red Sea part before my very eyes. Or to try to witness exactly how Jesus turned two fish and five pieces of bread into enough food to feed more than 5,000 people. Or to taste the wine that He himself created. Not to mentioned being on the mountain top with Moses when the glory of God passed overhead.

And if you’ve ever had similar desires to time travel, I can guarantee you that your children have as well. And with the help of the Imagination Station book series, they can. Well, at least in an imaginary way. This Focus on the Family children’s series, written by Marianne Hering and Paul McCusker, launched five years ago and is still going strong, enchanting children with its tales of time travel and adventure.

It all begins on a Monday afternoon in Whit’s End – the local soda shop for Beth and her cousin Patrick. Beth takes Patrick to meet Mr. Whittaker and his Imagination Station, a time-traveling machine. Within moments they’re seated inside, and the press of a red flashing button transports them to Greenland aboard a Viking ship. They have a mission to accomplish and a mysterious letter to figure out, but along the way they meet notorious Viking Erik the Red and his Christian son, Leif. Through a series of adventures, they see the difference that belief in Christ can make in the life of even a brute Viking.

In the next 16 books, Beth and Patrick travel to places like ancient Rome, Israel, Egypt and Ireland, always with a particular mission to accomplish and supplied by only a small bag of resources provided by Mr. Whittaker. They witness historical events like the battle between David and Goliath, the first Thanksgiving, and WWII, often barely escaping danger. In the most recent book, “In Fear of the Spear,” released earlier this year, they travel to South America to witness the work of missionary Jim Eliot and his team among the Auca tribe.

But the fun doesn’t stop there for your children. They can complete puzzles and games in the back of each book to reveal a secret code. By entering that code on the Imagination Station website, they unlock another audio adventure. There are also vocabulary lists, quizzes, and additional study information on the website that parents can utilize to really help their child unlock the books’ full educational potential.

The series is recommended for children ages 7 and older, but I think parents would enjoy reading them along with their children, together experiencing the wild adventures of going back into time to interact with a timeless God.

From Mothers to Mothers: Meck Moms Recommend Their Top Books on Parenting

Mother’s Day is less than a month away, and rather than settling for the same old flowers and chocolates, how about getting that special woman a book that has been a game-changer for other moms? We polled some of our Meck Staff Moms, asking for their favorite books written for moms, and here’s what they came up with:

(Ok, maybe don’t skimp out on the flowers and chocolate, but let one of these books be a special addition 🙂 ) And of course, they’re all available in The Grounds.

33779“Parenting by the Book” – John Rosemond 

“Loved this book, and if I had to pick just one, this would be it for me.  ‘Biblical Wisdom for Raising Your Child’ was the subheading and I thought it totally captured that.

 

yhst-20550167876698_2167_4875052“Boundaries with Kids” – Henry Cloud and John Townsend

“This book taught me about lovingly disciplining my children so that they will have the character they need to be successful, Godly men. Cloud and Townsend help moms and dads make choices and develop a parenting approach that sees beyond the moment to the adults their children will become.”  

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51prZfsIhDL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_“Confident Parenting”  & “10 Building Blocks for a Solid Family” – Jim Burns
“These books were pivotal in our early years as Christ followers and parents, as we created and prayed through our vision and mission for our (then tiny) family. Jim Burns, Ph.D., is a renowned youth and family expert. With him, you will find honesty and encouragement; which every parent needs! These books offer practical, easy to apply strategies for anyone who wants to be intentional about the health and happiness of their own family. Hands down my favorite part of all Jim’s work is that he is the first to tell you – no family is perfect – even his own. You’ll love the personal stories and interviews with parents and experts, covering all kinds of topics – from helping children deal with stress to learning to PLAY together as a family. As he writes so beautifully in his books, ‘A family that shines with a love for God and for each other is a positive foundation for creating a warm, grace-filled home.”

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“Bringing Up Boys” & “Bringing Up Girls” – Dr. James Dobson

“These are my ‘come-back-to books’ that serve as STRONG anchors for my parenting. Whether I am struggling with an issue related to my preschoolers, elementary-aged children, or teenagers, this really serves as “the ultimate read” for raising our sons and daughters to be men and women SECURE in their identity in Christ. I keep these on my night stand and never tire of  picking them up, whether I have an afternoon to read or just a few moments. Dr. Dobson served as an associate clinical professor of pediatrics for 14 years, was on attending staff at a children’s hospital for 17 years and also earned his Ph.D. in the field of child development. Because of his incredible knowledge and experience, these books cover real and PRESENT issues in parenting, such as eating disorders, decisions about love, romance and sex, academic demands, life goals, the confusion about the role of men and women in our society, and qualities we should instill in our young males and females. It’s guaranteed not to disappoint, but to challenge, encourage and equip any parent!”

51R089Y1DML“Shepherding a Child’s Heart” – Ted Tripp

“This book changed my life…seriously.  I became not only a different mom, but a different person.  I even learned a lot about myself and my upbringing and why I am the way I am. I was a very insecure mom before reading this book.  I finally understood God’s vision for parenting.”

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“The Five Love Languages of Children” – Gary Chapman

“Huge eye opening experience for me. I learned how to identify with a son that was not wired up like me.”